beekeeping equipment

Is a landing board necessary for your bees?

Landing boards and wee porches are unnecessary for honey bees. Nevertheless, the subject is polarizing. Some beekeepers swear by them, others hate them. So what are the issues?

I dislike the argument that if wild colonies don’t need landing boards, then no colonies do. However, it’s a good place to start because it’s true.

Wild colonies rarely have porches, whether they live in a tree hollow or inside a wall. Others might have one by chance, like the colonies that live inside water valve boxes or abandoned mailboxes. However, it seems like other real estate considerations are more important to honey bees, such as the volume of the internal cavity and the size of the opening.

Porches: not good for trucking

Commercial beekeepers like nothing that protrudes from the side of the hive. They need to move their hives frequently, often stacking them on pallets and strapping them together with ropes or tie-downs. Projecting architectural features of any kind interfere with business, so they would rather go without.

Likewise, storage in warehouses, barns, or winter bunkers is complicated by things jutting from the walls of the hives. Even in my small operation, I find anything that requires extra space is irritating and may have to go.

If you give a bee a porch

On the other hand, hobby beekeepers often adore porches and landing boards and wouldn’t think of keeping bees without them. Unlike humans, if you give a bee a porch, she will use it.

Try it. If you provide a landing board of any type at the hive entrance, many of the bees will land on it before walking inside. My guess—sheer speculation here—is that it’s easier to land on a flat surface than to thread the eye of the needle and fly directly into a small opening, especially when hordes of bees are coming and going at the same time.

Of course, those bees don’t need to fly directly inside. Instead, they can land on the outside wall of their hive. Like many other bee species, honey bees have arolia. Arolia are sticky, flexible pads that reside between the tarsal claws at the end of each leg. The pads help insects walk on vertical or even inverted surfaces.

As useful as that sounds, not all bees have arolia. For example, bees in the genus Megachile, which includes the leafcutters and resin bees, don’t have arolia at all, yet they get by just fine. Just a thought.

Other pros and cons

Proponents of porches are many. Several years ago, I posted a story about beekeeper Anthony Planakis who says that a combination of upper entrances and little porches soared his honey production. He simply added an upper entrance with a little porch to every honey super, an addition that yielded a massive amount of honey.

Others, including me, find landings great for bee-watching. If the bees land on a flat surface before going inside, you have an extra few seconds to examine the bees and their pollen loads, giving you insight into the workings of your hive. It also gives you time to take some photos.

Detractors of porches claim that a flat area can give an advantage to invaders such as robbing bees or invading wasps. Perhaps they also find it easier to enter the hive from a standing position rather than trying to fly in. Even mice, birds, and lizards seem to like flat areas as a place for lying-in-wait and strategic planning.

Conversely, it is often easier to see fighting on the landing board than to see fighting on the ground or between the weeds. Once you see fighting, you know you have a problem, so early detection is a good thing.

It’s a beekeeper decision

Just remember that porches and landing boards are primarily for people, not for bees. So if you like the idea of a landing place, go for it. If you don’t, leave them off. Either way works, and you will be happiest with the arrangement that works for you.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Here you can see the arolium between the tarsal claws of the left front leg of a honey bee. Pixabay photo.
Here you can see the arolium between the tarsal claws of the left front leg of a honey bee. Pixabay photo.

32 Comments

  • Hi Rusty
    Hope you don’t mind a small disagreement. Back when we loaded hives by hand, the hives were stacked closely together. The value of the landing board was in keeping the entrance from being shut were the hives too close front to back. Side by side doesn’t matter. The gap provided by the landing board gives the bees a space to come out and cluster if they are too hot and allows air circulation. I never moved bees on pallets so I don’t know about them. Pete B

  • Your arguments are all perfectly valid but, as a retired pilot, I favour a landing board for my bees; returning foragers are close to their maximum weight, using a lot of power, and they have to use even more power to decelerate, arrest their descent, manoeuvre accurately and simultaneously avoid possibly hundreds of other bees both arriving and departing the hive. Their vision isn’t as good as you might think, either, and these factors combine to make the landing problem complex and extremely demanding; I watch them carefully and often see them “going around” for a second approach, sometimes colliding with other bees-or the hive-and “landing out” for a rest before another attempt. A landing board might not be “necessary “ but, by cracky, it can help, saving time, fuel and airframe damage! I also provide porches since I observed my bees spending the night on the landing board in the rain, presumably due to overcrowding or temperature control, some being drowned in the process. In the end, they don’t have to use them……but they do!

  • My personal experience: We built a deck for my hive, with the intention of having multiple hives on it someday. (I still need to get one hive to survive a year, between cold damp winters and my husband’s (previous) spraying!) The deck, so far, has worked much better than having the hive set up on concrete blocks. It gives me a level place to set the crate that I set brood boxes on when inspecting the hive, and a flat place for me to move around without tripping over tree roots or weeds. The hive is set back from the edge about 6-8 inches. There is a gap between the deck boards of 1/2 to 3/4 inches. My bee mentor noticed that my bee ladies were falling in between the cracks, and so he suggested laying a board down for the ladies to land on. It has worked great. And we are better able to see if hornets and yellowjackets are trying to enter the hive. I suppose I could move the hive to the edge of the deck so that the ladies would fly directly into the entrance, but so far this is working.

    • Eu am mutat stupii și la unul ia căzut plăcuța de aterizare menționez că a mers foarte bine a fost singurul care a avut două magazii. [I moved the hives and one of them landed on the landing plate, I mention that it worked very well, it was the only one that had two warehouses.]

  • None of my hives have landing boards/porches. I abandoned that idea well over 10 years ago. Instead, my bottom boards have a 3/8 x 3″ slot year ’round, To augment ventilation, each bottom board has two 3″ holes covered with #8 hardware cloth. (Photos on request.) This screen is never blocked off. The bees do just fine at a mile above sea level here in the Rockies. I need never worry about snow blocking the entrance in the winter, overheating in the summer, or robbing.

  • Fall brings cold winter rains to the Northwest. Last year I reduced all my landing boards to the width of my summer wasp excluders. This kept the floor of the excluder covered while allowing me to significantly reduce the area of the landing board. I made the modification to reduce the area wetted by cold rain. I still get near dead bees on the reduced area but nothing like the number before the width reduction. If it were not for my wasp excluder design l would not have a landing area wider than 1″ and it would be sloped for drainage.

  • Most keepers of bees in Europe use landing boards, some even to the ground so that bees can walk up. Many possibilities in this world of ours, happy bees means happy keeper.

  • I just made a Layens hive and put two small landing boards. (2×1 timber strips) I’ve only kept bees for a few years but I do notice the bees make very good use of a landing board. I think it’s just personal preference really, but I can’t see any argument for not having some sort of landing board or any real negatives anyway. Not necessary mind. I don’t agree at all that a landing board makes it more difficult for them to defend the hive either. That’s down to the state of the colony. My bees would see a wasp off as soon as it hovered around. But in summary, my personal experience is that I see the bees make use of a landing board in many ways. I often see tired bees come in, land on board and nurse bees come out clean the forager until he gets back on his feet. This also provides a good opportunity to observe bees better from the outside hive as a few will congregate on the lander. I watch the entrance for hours I love it. I use strips of 2×1 as landers.

  • I have cork-sized entrances to my top bar hives and during a particularly wasp-rich spell in 2018, I picked up a tip to halve the entrance by cutting a cork lengthways. This certainly worked to improve the ability of the bees to defend the entrance as they had a small landing board and a spot for backup guards just inside the hive. Not exactly the same as the boards you have described but another benefit to consider.

  • As a sideliner commercial beekeeper I use 4-way pallets built specifically with beeways that serve as bottom boards. I did take a porch into consideration when I designed my pallets, and give the bees about a 1″ setback both for traffic considerations and to create an air gap when loading hot bees on trucks. One thing I’ve noticed though is that bees don’t need to land on the horizontal. Often I’ll see bees land directly on the front of the box then walk down and into the entrance.

  • Absolutely, my husband started with a porch several years ago due to his belief that the ladies come in fully loaded & heavy and he watched numerous fall to the ground. It’s his belief the porch allows them to land rather than fall due to crowding at the entrance. Plus it’s difficult to be tired and have to fly up to the hive.

    Plus he can monitor wasps and other invaders.

  • I believe all hives should have landing boards. I built my hive without one but noticed that my bees were colliding when coming and going so I put one on and it’s made a high difference.

  • I guess I like the porch so I can get a quick glance of the bees bringing in pollen. I watch for the colors to see what the bees might be foraging on. Also, in the summer the bees have more external space to beard. I always keep the entrance small (about 3″) so the guard bees can defend while they hang out on the porch.

  • The absolute truth is that we keep bees for us. We love them and have struggled to “keep” them. We have failed so badly that we feel shame for all the bees we have managed to kill. Right now, we have one colony which appears to be doing well. Took one super off this year and got 2 gallons of honey. Enough for us and left them with two deeps and a super. As to landing boards, it appears that THEY don’t need one. We have an upper entrance that they use like mad but, WE like the landing board because we can watch. We can see how many are returning and what their pollen load is. They don’t care about us. We care about them. Hope you and yours are well.

  • I agree, porches are more for the beekeepers than the bees. I like having a main landing board so that, as you say, it’s easier to see what’s going on as the workers come and go. I found Tony Planakis’ results very interesting, but have so far decided not to add porches anywhere else. For instance, I do like to use an Imrie shim (which has an entrance) between the brood box(es) and the honey super, and my colonies seem to like having that extra entrance, as well as the entrance in the inner cover. But they’re all different.

    To the retired pilot’s concerns, one colony’s workers almost invariably skipped over the main landing board and landed INSIDE the hive entrance – at full speed! Perhaps they were a bunch of frustrated aircraft carrier pilots.

    Then there’s the colony that chewed themselves a new side entrance, a slit several inches long. Obviously, there was no porch, but they preferentially bearded there.

  • I great article and one I hadn’t given a great deal of thought to. To porch or not to porch. That is the question.

    I’m feeling a little weary of keeping bees – and feel a little lifted by your words. Thank you. I have, however, avoided the 20million opposing views that have followed.

    Thank you for sharing. I feel a little more enthused.

  • Hi, Rusty. Been a while. I run about 200 colonies these days and have both with and sans porches. 6 or 7 years ago I started purging screened bottom boards from my operation and at the same time started doing away with porches. I too enjoy watching my girls come home and landing on the front porch along with the general activity going on there through the day. However, for me the deciding factor was rain. I move bees from time to time and this allows me to not be concerned about how level the hive sits to prevent rain from running back into the hive. I do many things differently these days that I have found work well for our climate here in Michigan. I don’t know if you allow video clips here Rusty but I’ll include one of my set up. By all means take it down at your discretion and apologies if it violates posting rules. https://www.facebook.com/jim.withers.5/videos/4830273493686649

    • Jim,

      It’s so nice to hear from you! Like so many things in beekeeping, I think the porch thing is personal. More for beekeepers than bees.

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